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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff City Stadium,
Saturday, 7th January 2012, 18:15

Television: Live TG4

Leinster take on Cardiff tomorrow evening with their unbeaten run still intact, but only just. As Miah Nikora's last-minute drop goal attempt drifted towards the posts, Joe Schmidt might have thought it was gone. It dropped short though and Leinster were relieved to hear the final whistle. If Nikora had made it though, it wouldn't have been an injustice and Leinster would have had only themselves to blame. They led 9-3 at half-time after playing into a strong wind and probably thought the job was largely done. They certainly played like that in the second half as their intensity dropped off and they let Connacht back into the game. The lineout was a disaster and the discipline was poor also.

Still they did win and they had a superb kicking display from Isa Nacewa to thank for that. Kicking five from five, three of them into the wind, this was his finest hour with the placed ball for Leinster. Despite winning, Schmidt would have been far from happy with the performance and he'll be looking for a reaction from the squad this week. The win maintained Leinster's six-point lead at the top of the table and with a tricky away trip to Glasgow in the Heineken Cup coming up next week, Schmidt will want his players to quickly rediscover their top form.

Cardiff will certainly provide them with a stern test. Like Leinster they are going well in Europe. They are currently tied with Edinburgh at the top of their pool, although crucially they have the better of the head to head record. They have a trip to London Irish next week followed by a home match against Racing Metro 92. They should be well able to win both and that would almost certainly be enough to get them into the quarter-finals for the first time in three years. Before that though, they'll want to get a win to get them into the top four in the league. They still have a game in hand but they'd love to beat Leinster, especially after shipping a heavy defeat to them at the RDS only five weeks ago. Cardiff had named a weakened team for the match that night with Wales playing Australia the next day. However it will still have stung their pride that Leinster scored six tries in a 52-9 rout.

Cardiff have quite an injury list including key men like Jamie Roberts, Paul Tito, Chris Czekaj and Taufa'ao Filise. However they've still named a very strong starting fifteen that show five changes from the team that narrowly lost against the Ospreys on New Year's Day. The big news is that their captain Sam Warburton is back in the team at openside flanker and he partners Maama Molitika and Xavier Rush in a strong back row. This will be the first time Warburton and Sean O'Brien get to face off since the World Cup quarter-final. Warburton got the better of O'Brien that day and Seanie will be looking for some payback.

The other two changes in the pack see world-class prop Gethin Jenkins come in for John Yapp and Michael Paterson come in for the injured Paul Tito to partner the hard-working Bradley Davies in the second row. There are two further changes in the backline as Tom James replaces the injured Alex Cuthbert on the wing and Dan Parks displaces Ceri Sweeney at out-half. It hardly weakens their backline though with Lloyd Williams and Leigh Halfpenny providing youthful promise and Casey Laulala a proven match-winner in the centre.

A lot of eyes will of course be on Gavin Henson at full-back. His celebrity notoriety has long since eclipsed his achievements as a rugby player. Cardiff are actually his fourth club in the last two seasons. He's making all the right noises about seriously restarting his career at Cardiff but that's something the fans at Saracens and Toulon have heard before. If he can get his act together, he undoubtedly has something to offer, but only time will tell.

Leinster have made twelve changes to the team that started last week. Dave Kearney and Andrew Conway hold their places on the wings, but the rest of the backline is changed. Rob Kearney is back at full back and Fergus McFadden and Gordon D'Arcy come in to the centres. Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan are back as the starting half-backs.

In the pack Damian Browne is the only player to keep his starting place in the second row and this week he partners Devin Toner. With Richardt Strauss out with a broken nose, Sean Cronin starts at hooker and Cian Healy and Mike Ross will pack down either side of him. There's a completely new backrow in Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip who will be looking to continue his 100% winning record as Leinster captain.

In the corresponding Christmas fixtures last season, Leinster had comfortable wins over Ulster and Connacht and then brought the 'big guns' back for the home match against the Ospreys. However the performance was seriously rusty and they stuttered to a fortunate 15-10 win. Schmidt will remind his players of this and will want them to hit the ground running. If they can do that, they have a chance although it will still be a tough task to extend their nine-game winning run in the league. But Cardiff has been a happy hunting ground for Leinster in the past and hopefully they'll escape with another win again.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Gavin Henson 15 Rob Kearney
Leigh Halfpenny 14 David Kearney
Casey Laulala 13 Fergus McFadden
Gavin Evans12 Gordon D'Arcy
Tom James 11 Andrew Conway
Dan Parks 10 Jonathan Sexton
Lloyd Williams 9 Eoin Reddan

Gethin Jenkins 1 Cian Healy
Marc Breeze 2 Sean Cronin
Scott Andrews 3 Mike Ross
Bradley Davies 4 Damian Browne
Michael Paterson 5 Devin Toner
Maama Molitika 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Sam Warburton (C)
7 Sean O'Brien
Xavier Rush 8 Jamie Heaslip (C)

Replacements Rhys Williams 16 Aaron Dundon
John Yapp 17 Heinke van der Merwe
Sam Hobbs 18 Jamie Hagan
Macauley Cook 19 Rhys Ruddock
Josh Navidi 20 Leo Auva'a
Richie Rees 21 Isaac Boss
Ceri Sweeney 22 Isa Nacewa
Richard Mustoe 23 Fionn Carr

Not Considered
due to Injury
Alex Cuthbert,
Ryan Tyrell,
Paul Tito,
Chris Czekaj,
Jamie Roberts,
Dafydd Hewitt,
Thomas Rhys Thomas,
Taufa'ao Filise,
James Down,
Andries Pretorius,
Deiniol Jones,
Martyn Williams,
Kristian Dacey

Mat Berquist,
Shane Horgan,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Dominic Ryan,
Simon Shawe,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Steven Sykes,
Richardt Strauss
Officials

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR),
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Phil Fear (both WRU),
TMO: Neil Ballard (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-01-06

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